Le Corbusier: the great artist hidden behind the great architect
Behind a great architect, there is always a great artist. A paraphrased aphorism that could be properly applied to the work of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known to the public under the name of Le Corbusier, famous for its architectural work and urban planning even more than for his important artistic career.
Forgetting or ignoring this last aspect, however, represents a serious error in the comprehension of one of the finest minds of the twentieth century. Le Corbusier indeed, even before being the visionary designer of cities and buildings, was a man of letters (as reported by his French identity card of 1930) and an artist devoted to painting, drawing and sculpture.
It all started with art
“I was born to look at pictures and to draw”. And “the bottom of my research and my intellectual production has its secret in the uninterrupted practice of painting”. In Le Corbusier’s words the origins as a painter and designer emerge with all the liberal passions cultivated outside the academic community and attributed -at least in the early part of the twentieth century- to the Cubism, the Surrealism and the Parisian friendships that pushed him to experiment different innovative directions.
Therefore artist and thinker, even before becoming an architect: Behind his great formal and constructive intuitions, a creative process had its roots in the daily practice of painting and graphic arts. Activities to which he devoted himself with passion, commitment and patience as a gardener: “Le matin à la peinture, l’après-midi, à l’autre bout de Paris, architecture et urbanisme. Mesure-t-on à quel point ces jardinage, labourage, sarclage patients et obstinés des formes et des couleurs, des rythmes et des dosages, alimentèrent chaque jour les architectures et les urbanismes qui nassaient 35 rue de Sèvres? Je pense que si l’on accorde quelque chose à mon oeuvre d’architecte, c’est à ce labeur secret qu’il faut en attribuer la vertu profonde”.
Painting and drawing: Le Corbusier’s shelter and intimate diary
Painting and drawing in the poetry of Le Corbusier had a “therapeutic” purpose: the architect found a serene landing in the daily grind of institutional commitments and responsibilities. His imagination, free from any bridle, travelled in unusual directions and told his everyday life, his private world, his passions and his interests: nature, women, everyday objects and his travels. Scattered papers and canvases on which he built a secret diary that remained with him throughout his life. The City life that brought in his sketches, however, was abruptly interrupted at the outbreak of the Second World War. Le Corbusier, to protect himself from the atrocities of the war, decided to live isolated in small villages lost in France: Vezelay in Burgundy, Ozon in the Pyrenees and finally in the Morvan region. During this period as a refugee, he rediscovered the rural world, still tied to the cycles of nature, and he was impressed by the farm animals like oxen that became, in his fantasy, the Bulls of a happy series of his paintings and sculptures.
After World War II
At the end of the war, Le Corbusier moved between Paris and New York, where he continued his work as an architect, creating numerous masterpieces of modern architecture (the Unités d’Habitation and the urban planning of Chandigarh) thanks to which he has passed into history as one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century.
Alongside this frenetic activity as an architect, urban designer and theorist, he continued to cultivate his passion, painting: abandoned the study of forms and signs, Le Corbusier devoted himself to a personal synthesis, through a universe of images and of colors that became gradually more and more identifiable, creating his own recognizable style. Among the recurring themes in the work of last years emerged other symbols typical of Le Corbusier, such as the hand that became a sort of unique sign and logo.
Painter, draftsman, sculptor, and, even at the same time, architect: this is the indispensable intellectual background of Jeanneret, a fertile ground on which it gained an innovative conception of architecture and the organization of space. A compendium of all this can be found in the words of the famous architect Mario Botta: “Among the various love affairs of the beginning of my career I had the privilege of being helping boy in the studio he [Le Corbusier] had set up in Venice for the project for the new hospital. He is someone who has been able to transform the events of his own history in architectural designs. The ability of Le Corbusier was to be able to interpret and create the future and to shape it into a new